European Football

Ligue 1 Team of the Season Part 2: The Midfield

The team gets much more difficult to pick starting from here…

Welcome back to the Ligue 1 Team of the Season, where today we will decide our midfield three. The defense was fairly easy, but things begin to get more difficult (and more controversial) from here, so be sure to stick around and see this out to the conclusion of the week.

And here we go…

Aurélien Tchouaméni (AS Monaco)

Ligue 1 is the league of young, promising talents, and very few rising stars shone brighter than Monaco’s Aurélien Tchouaméni. The Rouen-born 21 year old joined the Principality team before last season, and after not being given much of a chance under then-manager Robert Moreno, he was given all of the opportunities to prosper under current boss Niko Kovač, and boy, has he prospered.

Tchouaméni is very flexible as a midfielder, able to play as a number eight, a lone defensive midfielder, or as part of a double pivot. His growing confidence and comfort on the ball allows him to flourish with the ball at his feet, able to play enough quality progressive passing to greatly benefit his team while in possession. He is becoming more comfortable advancing higher up the pitch, allowing him to be more involved in what his team does in the build up play and allowing him to contribute much more than in defense. But his defending is still phenomenal.

He is a force of nature as a defensive player, winning tackles and intercepting the ball all over the pitch. Despite functioning best in a double pivot, he has the pace and inexhaustible motor needed to cover the entire defensive midfield role by himself. His physicality and knowledge of how and when to take advantage of his physicality makes him an ideal player to act as a number six, shielding the back line and doing the dirty work needed to help a team transition from defense to attack. He is also relentless enough to completely dominate that area of the pitch. He plays with a maturity beyond his years, one that allows him to move beyond the barrier of relying too greatly on physical skillset. He was always promising when he was at Bordeaux, but this was the season where he really broke out into the mainstream, where he became a top-tier midfield talent.

And he just turned 21 a few months ago. Absolutely absurd.

He has not been perfect, he has had his errors and blunders, but the amount of unending (and rightly placed) faith that Kovač has shown in him this season has allowed him to become one of Monaco’s most important players right now. He has parlayed this outstanding season into a nomination for the league’s Young Player of the Year award, an honor that I believe he should be the favorite to receive. You could make a very convincing argument that he has been the best midfielder in Ligue 1 this season, and I am certain you will be hearing his name linked with plenty of big moves abroad come this summer.

Lucas Paquetá (Olympique Lyonnais)

Yes, I am a Lyon fan. Yes, I have biases here. No, I do not think that swayed this decision.

I genuinely believe Lucas Paquetá has been the signing of the season in Ligue 1 this year. You could make the argument for Moise Kean or Kevin Volland, certainly, but I do not think that either player has consistently been as impactful or as important for their team than Paquetá has been for OL. After an inconsistent but somewhat promising stint in Milan, Paquetá arrived in a team that allowed him to be one of the focal points and express himself. He was allowed to be on the ball, allowed to make things happen, allowed to show a bit of that Brazilian flair, and it paid off in bunches for Lyon this season.

He is not a creative force, he clearly is not among the league leaders in assists. He does not even lead OL in assists, trailing fairly far behind Memphis Depay, but he is still very involved. At least in expected assists, he is among the top ten in the league. Lyon are famously (or infamously, if you ask me) a team that generate a lot of goal-scoring chances this season but score not that many of them, so maybe Paquetá’s assist numbers are much closer to Depay’s if Lyon could consistently score goals.

And maybe he would have a league title to his name if Lyon could score more, but let’s not let this devolve into my bitterness rant.

Despite whatever assist totals he may be lacking, the Brazilian has scored plenty of goals this season, enough to make him OL’s fourth-highest goalscorer on the season and the league’s third-highest scoring midfielder. Yes, he is somewhat one-footed, but he is a very accurate shooter and is smart in knowing where to be when he needs to be there. He is always dangerous.

Paquetá was signed to replace Lyon star Houssem Aouar, with the French midfielder thought to be already on his way to Arsenal. When that deal collapsed, many thought that this was a spoiled move and wondered how much Paquetá could even be involved this season. Fast forward eight months, and Paquetá has become a star of the league while Aouar has slowly drifted out of thought. Lyon fans will obviously be sad when Aouar eventually leaves his boyhood club, but they will rest assured knowing the ideal replacement is already there.

Benjamin André (LOSC Lille)

Deschamps, it is not too late. You can rectify your mistake. Drop Sissoko and call this man, I am sure he can pack his bags and be ready for the Euros in a flash.

I will honestly admit that had someone told me before the season that Benjamin André would be one of the most important players for Lille in their league title charge, I would have thought they were crazy, but here we are. Benjamin André has arguably been the best defensive midfielder in the league this season, and he has been easily the best in this position outside of Tchouaméni. His experience, veteran leadership presence, and sheer tenacious tackling ability have been incredibly valuable in the Lille midfield, and he has formed a perfect partnership with rising star and soon-to-be Leicester midfielder Boubakary Soumaré. He does not bring all that much in an attacking sense, sure, but the man is simply everywhere. He brings the steel and solidity to that Lille midfield, traits that are especially important in manager Christophe Galtier’s preferred 4-4-2 formation. The 30 year old still has a bit of pep in his step, able to fly around the pitch and do the dirty work of defense largely by himself, making up for how little of it Soumaré does. He also is an underrated passer of the ball, progressing it up the pitch well and even being among the league leaders in passes played into the attacking third. While much of the progressive passing has fallen at the feet of Soumaré, André is still very capable of doing his part to help Lille transition from defense to attack.

It is the Frenchman, paired with the other formidable veteran in the Lille team in José Fonte, that makes this team so tough to get through. André was never a bad player by any means prior to his move to Lille, but I never would have thought he would become this. I would argue that without the ever-present André in midfield, Lille would not be nearly as good as they are. I do not think that André is Lille’s main hero this season should they end up sealing the title, but he will be a player who deserves his commendation and praise come the end of the season for his contribution. Quite frankly, he should have made the France team for the Euros. I have my own issues with the midfielders France did select (which could become it’s own blog post in the future), but I genuinely do not think there has been a better non-Kanté French defensive midfielder, and one more deserving of a call up, than André. And probably Tchouaméni, but we already covered him.

And there you have it, the midfield three of the Ligue 1 Team of the Season. It was fairly controversial, with no Marco Verratti, Houssem Aouar, or Renato Sanches. There were also a few more who could have made it, but ultimately there was not enough space.

Agree with my choices? Think I left someone out? Let me know in the comments! Join us next time when we select the attack.

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